While only possessing a small playing population of 147,187 players on the continent, with around 100,000 of those within Argentina, rugby and South America both have tremendous potential to grow together into a great playing region.
Working Class Rugger, The Roar
With eight active nations competing annually in either the CONSUR A (Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Paraguay) or B (Peru, Columbia and Venezuela) championships, the game’s potential on the continent is only held back by the lack of resources, not enthusiasm.
Argentina are the obvious success story as we are all aware of, but the rapid emergence of the likes of Chile, Brazil and Columbia are proving that Latin America and the game they play in heaven are truly a matched made there.
All three have seen remarkable progress over the last five or so years, with each boasting significant and growing player populations. Chile with 18,755, Brazil with 10,130 and Columbia with 5,414 provides the ideal opportunity alongside Uruguay for rugby to really push development outside of the regional powerhouse that is Argentina.
Grass root development
Most encouragingly all four Unions are not resting on the laurels waiting for the IRB to come to them, but are actively looking to build their constituencies through grassroots development programs.
While both Chile and Uruguay have been the next best behind Argentina for some time, now both Brazil and Columbia have serious intentions of not only one day knocking these two off their perches but fronting up against Los Pumas.
In fact, both Unions have made inroads with significant assistance of both government support and increasing sponsorship investment. Coupled with clever marketing campaigns such as the Topper endorsed Brazilian Federation ads awareness of the game has grown, as has the numbers of clubs and players.
Junior World Trophy
In Chile’s case the hosting of the inaugural Junior World Rugby Trophy has seen the game progress, particularly at the junior levels far beyond many within its Union could have imagined.
While they still play second fiddle to Uruguay with the size of their player base and current growth, they will soon provide strong competition for their South American neighbours. With greater levels of investment, Chile could truly be a nation to watch out for well into the future.
Uruguay, with a significantly smaller participation level than both Brazil and Chile, still produces the highest quality talent outside of Argentina. This should remain the status quo at least in the short to medium term, however, simply stagnating will eventually lead to their rapid descent in standing amongst South American rugby powers.
Fortunately, they do possess an active Union looking to expand their base by 100 per cent to over 10,000 registered players and to once again qualify for a future RWC. Their programs are numerous in their intention and target demographics from prisoners to schoolkids. The net is being cast far and wide to greater strengthen their game moving forward.
Peru has also begun to experience growth but still possess a much smaller player base, 950 registered players, in fact.
Although, as demonstrated by their victorious CONSUR B campaign defeating both Columbia (2009 champions) and Venezuela, the quality of their rugby has come on dramatically in the last 12 months.
I’m afraid I am unable to shed more light on either Paraguay or Venezuela, which is unfortunate as developments in both these nations would be interesting to learn about.
Latin American fits the mould for rugby more so than perhaps Asia or Africa, where rugby is making a push for acceptance and profile. Outside of Europe, South America is one of rugby’s greatest growth opportunities.